How AOL News Started The "Sex By Surprise" Lie

The allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are pretty straightforward in terms of Swedish law: he's been accused of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

The charges allege that Assange held one woman down using his body weight to sexually assault her and that he raped another woman while she was sleeping.

Yet the media — everyone from Naomi Wolf and Glenn Beck to bloggers across the internet — is reporting that Assange is being charged with "sex by surprise," or some bizarre Swedish law having to do with a condom breaking, not rape. Multiple reports also characterize the sex as consensual.

The truth? There's nothing in Swedish law about "sex by surprise" or broken condoms. (Here's the penal code, see for yourself.) And despite reports to the contrary, Assange's accusers have always said that this was not consensual sex.

So what are actually very serious charges are being diminished by shoddy reporting and victim-blaming — and it all starts with AOL News. All of the news sources and blogs reporting that the Assange charges are simply "sex by surprise" cite this piece from Dana Kennedy at AOL News.

The international manhunt for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a sex-crime investigation in Sweden apparently stems from a condom malfunction.

Assange's London attorney, Mark Stephens, told AOL News today that Swedish prosecutors told him that Assange is wanted not for allegations of rape, as previously reported, but for something called "sex by surprise," which he said involves a fine of 5,000 kronor or about $715.

"We don't even know what 'sex by surprise' even means, and they haven't told us," Stephens said.

So you would think that Kennedy, a seasoned reporter, would do some sleuthing into what the law actually is. No such luck. Instead Kennedy goes on to report the really important "facts": that one of the accusers is a blond radical feminist who "once wrote a treatise on how to take revenge against men."

But here's the thing — if you look at that "treatise" against men, it's actually just a blog post that links and translates an English eHow article that has nothing to do with dudes. So yeah, she didn't write anything — just re-posted a rando article. For that, she's a conniving feminist bitch. Kennedy then goes on to use the article in The Daily Mail tabloid — the same one Naomi Wolf used – to outline the rest of the case (stopping along the way to point out the other accuser was wearing a pink sweater, of course).

Now, the BBC, The Guardian and The New York Times (among other reputable news outlets) have all reported the real charges against Assange — the correct information is out there. So why hasn't a correction been issued? At the very least, a follow up piece is in order. But instead of doing some more reporting on the truth of the charges, Kennedy has a new angle: "Lawyer: Assange Faces ‘Tough Climate' in Feminist-Friendly Sweden"

One of Assange's two accusers is also known for her strong feminist views, having once written a treatise on how to take revenge on men. [There's that bullshit again! -Jessica] Both she and Borgstrom have been active in the Social Democratic Party.

"Assange is going to be coming into a very tough climate up here, and I wonder if he understands how much danger he's in," said Per E. Samuelson, a high-profile defense lawyer in Stockholm who specializes in defending men accused of rape.

"Some of the laws regarding rape are rather extreme, and the way they are applied in court is sometimes unbelievable," Samuelson told AOL News. "To be accused of a sex crime in Sweden is considered very serious. Swedish courts tend to believe what the woman says."

The horror — they trust women?! But what really kills me about this follow up piece is that Kennedy finally accurately reports what Swedish law is:

There are three categories of rape in Sweden, "severe" rape, "regular rape" and "less severe" rape as well as a host of other charges involving sexual assault and coercion, the nuances of which were outlined in The New York Times.

So the folks at AOL News know the truth, they've just chosen not to correct their error — instead leaving up the original post to drive traffic and influence an army of blogs, forums and media outlets to misreport the story and smear the accuser's names.

Now, I have no opinion about Assange's innocence or guilt — we don't know shit about it. But I hardly think that accurately reporting the charges against him is some sort of militant feminist conspiracy. Because of the irresponsible reporting of AOL News, the truth has been muddied and even lost; even worse, women who may be rape victims have been lied about, smeared and trashed the world over.

This post originally appeared on JessicaValenti.com. Republished with permission.

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